Wernher Von Braun is perhaps the most well-known of the German scientists and technical specialists to come to the United States as a result of Operation Paperclip. Von Braun is widely regarded as the Father of American Rocketry, his contributions to technology led to the success of the American space program and intercontinental ballistic missiles. In Germany the V-2 rockets of which he spurred the development and deployment rained terror on the British during the war, and much of his history in Nazi Germany was covered up with the complicity of the American government.
Von Braun was a member of the Nazi Party, which he joined in 1937, later telling American interrogators that he was forced to join in order to continue his work. Von Braun told the Americans that he joined in 1939. He also joined the SS in 1940, though he claimed that this too was to allow him to continue his work. He explained a photograph of himself with Heinrich Himmler while wearing the SS uniform as being the only time he ever wore it, but fellow workers at Peenemunde testified that Von Braun routinely wore the SS uniform at work. He held the rank of Lieutenant when he joined and rose to the rank of Major.
Building the V-2 rocket was a dangerous job, and Von Braun approved of the use of slave labor in the assembly plants. Von Braun later claimed to have visited the Mittelwerk assembly facility but never observed any harsh conditions or mistreatment of any workers there; numerous workers claimed that Von Braun was the source of the harsh conditions and participated in cruel treatments of the workers which contributed to the dangers of assembly. One of the cruel ironies of the German rocket program was that the V-2 killed more people building it than it did when fired at an enemy.
Von Braun was later arrested by Himmler, who was trying to consolidate his power in a deteriorating Germany, and released under the specific order of Hitler, who also ordered his continued protection as long as the V-2 program moved forward. In the general collapse at the end of the war Von Braun and other members of the V-2 program surrendered to American troops in Austria. By June of 1945 Von Braun’s transfer to the United States was approved.
Von Braun was one of the first group of seven Peenemunde rocket scientists who arrived in the United States bearing credentials which had been created for them by US intelligence agents falsifying much of their past. Allegiance to the Nazi Party and SS were outright denied or presented as having been forced on the engineers. During his long career in the United States the background created for him during Operation Paperclip held up in the public eye, despite early opposition to his freedom and presence in America by other German scientists.
One of the German engineers brought to the United States was the Director of the German company which manufactured the V-1 and V-2 rockets, Mittelwerk GmbH. Mittelwerk was located in Mittelbau-Dora, a concentration camp which operated as a sub-camp of Buchenwald. Mittelwerk used slave labor from the camp to build the weapons which would later be launched against the allies. Approximately one third of the prisoners sent to Mittelbau-Dora died there.
Rickhey joined the Nazi Party in 1931. He held several different engineering positions in pre-war Germany, rising in both his career and in the Nazi hierarchy. During the war he worked in the Reich Ministry for Armament and Munitions. Rickhey became one of Germany’s leading technical experts in the construction of underground bunkers.
Rickhey became the Director of Mittelwerk in 1944, as production of the V-2 rocket was increasing. Using the slave labor provided by the concentration camp he introduced draconian measures to increase production. His work led to his being awarded the Knight’s Cross of the War Merit Cross – an award which was available to both civilian and military personnel. Hermann Goering requested that Hitler grant him the same award, as its rarity gave it a special panache in German society. Hitler refused.
Rickhey was taken into custody by the Americans in 1945 and due to his expertise in setting up and operating the production lines for rockets he was transferred under Operation Paperclip to Wright Field in Ohio in 1945. The United States meanwhile established the Dachau Trials – which were held by the United States Military rather than by an International Tribunal as at Nuremberg – which included trials of defendants from Mittelbau-Dora. As a result of testimony given there Rickhey was indicted and returned to Germany under arrest in 1947.
Rickhey was charged with creating the appalling working conditions at Mittelwerk, the use of slave labor, and the witnessing of Gestapo and SS executions of laborers. At the end of December 1947 he was acquitted of all charges and following his release he opted to remain in Germany.
The Saturn 5 rocket was developed in the 1960s to carry American astronauts to the moon. The Saturn 5 program was managed by Arthur Rudolph, who had previously worked on smaller US rockets developed for the space program and for the US Army. Prior to that he worked on V-2 rocket research for the United States in White Sands, assigned there by the US Army after being brought to the United States under the purview of Operation Paperclip.
A US background investigation in 1954 – after nine years in the United States – noted Rudolph’s fervor for the Nazi Party and its beliefs. He had the joined the party in 1930. Rudolph worked in production of the V-2 as operations director at Mittelwerk. During production Rudolph and the rest of the production team witnessed the public execution of workers accused of sabotage; Rudolph later claimed that they were forced by the SS to observe the hanging of up to 12 prisoners.
Rudolph surrendered to the US Army and after briefly working with the British was returned to US custody and with his family brought to the United States. He became a US citizen in 1954. His work on rockets for the army and later NASA was often in highly classified areas. He received numerous awards for his work from NASA from which he retired in January 1969, six months before the rocket he had played a leading role in developing launched men to the moon.
Ten years later investigators with the Department of Justice uncovered the link between Rudolph and forced labor at Mittelbau-Dora. A series of interrogations was scheduled with the Department’s Office of Special Investigations, these revealed Rudolph’s activities at the Mittelwerk facility, including his use of forced labor to speed production of the V-2. Rudolph entered into negotiations to avoid prosecution by the United States for war crimes, which included his renunciation of American citizenship (although he retained his pension and Social Security benefits), and deportation.
Upon Rudolph’s return to West Germany on a pretext he renounced his American citizenship as agreed and applied for West German citizenship. The revelation of the reasons for his actions started an international investigation, with public demands that he be tried as a war criminal. The West German government decided that since the Statute of Limitations for any crimes connected to Rudolph had expired he would not be charged and he was granted West German citizenship. Before he died in 1996 Rudolph sued to recover American citizenship, claiming he had been coerced, but the case was dismissed.
The United States Joint Chiefs of Staff initiated what became Operation Paperclip in the late spring of 1945, and late that summer formed the JIOA to oversee the program. It was formed as a subcommittee of the already extant Joint Intelligence Committee and was approved by President Harry Truman with the caveat that those who had been active members of the Nazi Party were not to be included in the program. As the identification process evolved the JIOA realized that many of the leading scientific specialists targeted by Paperclip were Party members of long standing.
The JIOA and the military intelligence agencies whose officers manned it created dossiers which either denied Nazi membership or mitigated it by designating it to have been forced. Membership in the SS by several of the German recruits was simply stricken from the records whenever possible, or acknowledged and falsely explained if there was photographic evidence of recruits appearing in SS uniform.
Participation in war crimes, either passively or actively, was also eliminated from the dossiers prepared by the JIOA for the desired recruits. The JIOA was abetted in this work by British Intelligence, who conducted many of the initial interviews and assisted in creating fictional histories, thereby keeping American hands clean.
In addition to the day to day oversight of Paperclip, the JIOA was responsible for the collection of data as it was uncovered in Germany, again working alongside their British counterparts. Scientific and industrial information from German companies was collected, analyzed, classified, and distributed according to JIOA directives.
The JIOA remained in operation until it was finally shutdown by the Pentagon during the Kennedy administration. Nearly all of the dossiers collected on the German recruits during Operation Paperclip were transferred to the National Archives, with some notable exceptions. The dossier for Wernher Von Braun was not released.
Bernhard Tessmann worked on the German V-2 program at Peenemunde from 1936 to 1943. His interest in the program was not driven by an interest in spaceflight as Von Braun’s was. Tessmann was interested in the development of guided missiles as weapons. His specialties were engine development, thrust measurement, and flight control systems.
Tessmann relocated to Austria after Peenemunde was bombed in 1943. From there he worked on the design of mobile launchers for the V-2, and in the development of underground assembly and launching systems, the precursor of today’s missile silos.
Tessmann was responsible for saving much of the V-2 documentation near the end of the war, as it became evident that Hitler would not surrender until Germany was all but destroyed by the oncoming American and Russian Armies. A disused iron mine was selected as a suitable storage facility for the entire library of V-2 documents and papers. After the war Tessmann informed the Americans of the cache, leading to its recovery.
When Tessmann entered the United States he was initially sent to Fort Bliss in Texas, where he continued his work on thrust measurement and control. He remained in the employ of the United States at Fort Bliss, White Sands, the Redstone Arsenal, and finally NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
While living in Huntsville Tessmann and his wife were avid supporters of the arts, and they devoted time and money to foster new programs in music and the humanities. Today, the Ilse and Bernhard Tessmann Music Scholarship offers a junior or senior at the University of Alabama Huntsville majoring in music a one year scholarship.
Hubertus Strughold was known as the Father of Space Medicine for his contributions to that emerging field, and was instrumental in the design and development of space suits used in both the Gemini and Apollo space programs. He was brought to the United States during Operation Paperclip in 1947, professing at the time to have known nothing regarding the Nazi sponsored medical experiments on humans conducted at Dachau.
Although the Nuremberg Trials had listed Strughold as a person implicated in medical experiments, American authorities accepted his denial. In 1935 Strughold had accepted the Directorship of the Research Institute for Aviation Medicine, which later became absorbed into the Luftwaffe. He received the rank of Colonel in the Luftwaffe and in that capacity attended a conference held in Nuremberg in which medical studies on prisoners in Dachau, including invasive surgeries sans anesthesia were discussed in detail.
Throughout his career in the United States, which began in 1947, Strughold worked on medical aspects of the space program, rising to become Chief Scientist of NASAs Aerospace Medical Division in 1962. He retired in 1968. During his lifetime he was the subject of three investigations into his possible involvement in war crimes stemming from medical experimentation on humans.
The first investigation found he was not culpable, the second was dropped for lack of evidence and the third was called off after his death in 1986. Still, rumors of his criminal activities for the Nazis had persisted throughout his career and continued following his death.
When Army documents from 1945 were declassified it was revealed that Strughold had been sought by the US Army as a war criminal at the end of the war, and later evidence surfaced that he had not only been aware of medical experiments, but had actively participated in them, although all of the patients on which the experiments were conducted survived. The experiments had been conducted on six epileptic children. Further investigation into Strughold’s war activities continues to this day.
Kurt Debus served the Third Reich as Director of Flight Tests for the V-1 and V-2. He was a member of the Nazi Party and the SS, and before the war a member of the SA, the paramilitary arm of the Nazi Party which preceded the SS.
Debus was one of the German rocket specialists who surrendered to the Americans in Austria at the end of World War II and was sent to the United States as part of Operation Paperclip with his Party membership and longstanding service to the Nazis carefully excised from his record.
After time at Fort Bliss and the Redstone arsenal Debus was based in Cape Canaveral, Florida, where he designed the launch facilities for numerous Army rockets before the team he oversaw was transferred to NASA. He later designed the launch facilities for the Saturn rockets.
When the Cape Canaveral facilities were named as NASAs Launch Operations Center Debus was named as its first director, a position he held until his retirement in 1974. Throughout his career he published numerous papers, won many honors and distinction, and held many honorary posts and degrees.
But when Kurt Debus was first interrogated by the US Army prior to his being approved for entry to the United States via Operation Paperclip, the report read, in part. “He should be interned as a menace to the security of the Allied Forces.” The end of the World War and the birth of the Cold War in the dawn of the atomic age created the need for Operation Paperclip, the full truth of which is still being revealed.